Turkey's fight against academic freedom

Turkey's fight against academic freedom

Urheber: Can Candan. All rights reserved.

Since signing a public call for peace in January, 2218 researchers and academicians have faced an unprecedented amount of pressure including disciplinary and criminal proceedings.

The signatories, many who teach at Turkish universities had published a declaration urging the government to return to peace negotiations with the Kurdish armed group PKK.

The declaration was met with harsh reactions from the Turkish president, who accused them academicians of treason.

Until now, 40 signatories have been discharged from their jobs, 1124 of them are being prosecuted, and 4 have been arrested and released after more than a month which is not the final decision of the court. The next trial will be in September. Besides prosecution by the state, hundreds of signatories face disciplinary measures from their own universities; administrative duties, jury memberships, scholarships, as well as overseas and ÖYP (Program for Lecturer Education) assignments have been cancelled. Apart from the cases which were opened on the ground of having signed the petition, some academicians are also currently accused of spreading terrorist propaganda, inciting the public, as well as defaming the president, the state and its institutions. These allegations are based on updates and posts on the petition, which they shared on Facebook. The Mersin Public Prosecution Office for example has initiated such a trial against four former lecturers at Mersin University, who were previously discharged from their positions, aksing to sentence them to at least 14 years in prison.

A recent development has added a new dimension to the repression: the cases of 44 academicians from 21 universities have been sent to the Turkish Higher Education Council (YÖK). The Council, a relict of the military coup of 1980, is tasked with institutional and academic oversight and censorship of the universities. On July20th, the Supreme Disciplinary Board is going to discuss the cases of the first 25 academicians. Demanded is a punishment which translates as “dismissal and no employment opportunity in any academic or public institution”. The decision that YÖK will give on the 20th, will also serve as an exemplary case for hundreds of academicians whose files will be discussed next. The crucial point in the involvement of the Higher Education Council is that a draft law is currently being discussed in the parliament, which in case it is accepted, should enable the Council to interrogate all university lecturers on its own and ex officio. Currently such discplinary proceedings are decided by the deans of the respective faculty and the university president. Under the new law the Supreme Disciplinary Board of the Higher Education Council will be able to start a direct investigation without waiting for the OK of the dean or university president. This applies to cases in which “an academician in a state or private university, has published, multiplied, distributed posters, banners, bands or the like with political and ideological purposes, or has been engaged in activities with separatist intentions or has been involved in support of actions with a terrorist character”. This vague definition leaves the door for abuse wide open. At the end of such an investigation the Head of YÖK has the power rto decide, if the respective lecturer should be reprimanded, whereas the Head of the Disciplinary Board will be deciding what kind of punishment (wage-cuttings, stopping the progress of rank, dismissing from the profession of university lecturer, or from any other public office) will be administered.

Academicians say that issuing the Council with such an authorization will limit critical thinking and freedom of expression at universities even further. Academics for Peace have made a call to “everybody who sides with peace and free thought” to join them on the 20th when they will gather in front of the YÖK building in Ankara to speak out –again- against policies of war, both in Turkey and the world, defend the right to life, and be in solidarity with their colleagues who are being exposed to pressures because they have stood for those principles.

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